Research, development and innovation are intrinsically linked to economic growth. In the UK we have a shocking history of underinvestment in science and research funding however this has been mitigated by the investment the EU has made into UK sciences, research institutions and innovative start ups. With the new EU funding programme Horizon 2020 coming into effect from next year there are high hopes for a new burst of innovation and the economic activity that brings with it.
The more innovation we have in the UK, the more people make things, the more our manufacturing sector increases and the more jobs are created. Investing in research and development helps to generate employment, whether that is pure blue skies thinking giving rise to startling discoveries like graphene and its myriad of uses, or specific grants to tackle real world problems like the energy crisis currently facing the country.
The coalition government has made very positive noises about science and the positive role it has in shaping the future of Britain, however the UK currently only invests 1.7% of our GDP on research and development (only 0.57% when looking at purely public investment). This puts us 25th of all OECD countries in percentage terms and is much lower than the 3% EU target which the UK signed up to in 2002. That said, attracting EU science funding is one of the areas where the UK does disproportionately well compared to other EU countries and our universities are extremely successful at attracting EU funding. Earlier this year the EU’s science and innovation programme Horizon 2020 was agreed upon with a €70.2bn budget, bringing high hopes for investment in UK science.
The agreement for Horizon 2020 has been a huge success for European policy makers and will be fantastic for UK universities, researchers, businesses and especially small businesses which are now specifically included with an instrument targeting small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The SME instrument is of particular note for the benefits that this will have on employment and job creation.
Horizon 2020 is designed around three central pillars that will see the programme investing in blue skies, frontier research and research infrastructure; business research and innovation; and tackling societal problems.
With the European elections fast approaching (22nd May 2014) it is important that both domestic and European politicians keep science, research and innovation funding at the forefront of their minds. We have no idea what the world will look like in 20-30 years but whatever it looks like I hope our investment now means that Britain can maintain its status as an innovative hothouse. The UK continually punches well above its weight thanks to the bright, creative, inventive scientists and engineers we produce, we need both the EU and UK politicians to get behind them.
* Richard Davis is a prospective Member of the European Parliament for London. His website is here.